It is always so much easier to deal with numbers. They don't die and rot so you have to wear gauze over your face and peel skin off fingers to get the prints to tell who they are.
It is comfortable to think about people as numbers when you don't really want to think about them. In World War I they spoke of "wastage." During World War II, for 6 million Jews, it was the Final Soultion.
You can say "6 million" and not feel a thing. You can say "911" and study the photographs of the bodies piled up at Jonestown, and it is a horror, all right, but an abstract horror.
How do you find a human scale for the Jonestown tragedy?
The story of these varied and scattered lives and how they ended in that steamy compound at Jonestown compels many of us to seek out parallels, references, some anchor that will make it seem more real to us. Some people speak of the bridge of San Luis Rey. Some start talking about an appointment in Samarra. It doesn't help. We are still left with all those converging fates, those lives so neatly wound up at the same time and place. The impossible mystery of why things happen anyway.
Ten years ago, when Michael Rozynko was 11, his parents divorced. He had liked both his parents and had adjusted easily to the moves they made up and down the West Coast as their medical jobs changed. Then when the marriage disintegrated, he withdrew.
"The breakup had a shattering effect on him. Mike was really a genius, but he fell apart," said his younger sister, Sandy. The three Rozynko children, Chris, Mike and Sandy, stayed with their mother Annie, a registered nurse, in Ukiah, Calif.
At school Rozynko was teased because he was short and fat. He seemed to find companionship only in food and books. His mother, a native of New Jersey who had moved out west at an early age and married a psychologist, shared his loneliness. She didn't have many friends, but she found Marceline Jones, wife of local minister Jim Jones, very sympathetic.
Out of curiosity, and loneliness, she attended a meeting at Jones' church at Redwood Valley. "My mother dragged us, forced us to go. I was scared because everyone was singing these religious church songs," recalled Sandy Rozynko Mills, who joined the Peoples Temple with the rest of her family but left in 1975.
Mike Rozynko, who had been raised a nominal Presbyterian like his brother and sister, seemed to find himself. His scholastic record shot up to straight A's, he took up photography as a hobby and began to talk of medical school.
His mother found the emotional support she needed, though she questioned every statement of Jim Jones. "My mother was a very intelligent woman who lacked confidence. With the church she found support, just the feeling someone she knew was there," said Mills. At the church meetings, said her daughter, she would probe Jones' possessive philosophy. Her outspokenness embarrassed her children. "She wasn't a person to join the crowd, but she was afraid to be alone." Mills left home when she was 13 because of what she described as her mother's strictness, but she didn't immediately leave the church. Chris Rozynko stayed home until he finished high school. Mike moved to a commune before he finished high school.
The two Rozynko boys had their own dreams. But, then, as Jim Jones began to think more and more of his followers as possessions, he dictated his own dreams for his young followers. Chris was forbidden to go to a law school where had been accepted. Mike was told the Temple was more important than medical school.
"Mike had really looked forward to college, he really wanted to be a doctor. But Jones said that professional schools for the younger people kept them from being involved in the cause. The cause turned out to be him."
Sandy Mills, now 19, her ruddy complexion pale from her personal loss of her brothers and mother in Guyana, bent her long, blond, frizzed hair over her coffee cup. For awhile she turned the white cup round and round and didn't speak.
In his own way, while retaining his loyalty to the Temple, Mike Rozynko fulfilled his goal. He became a registered ambulance driver. At the Temple he became the photographer for the publishing center and would spend hours discussing different methods of photography.
Once, before her family moved to Guyana, Mills tried to talk to Mike. "I told him that I loved him and that he would always have a place to come to if he left the Temple. His responses were very mechanical, unreal."
Just last summer Mills talked to Mike on a ham radio. "I said the people are not being hung from the Golden Gate Bridge, like you are being told. The Ku Klux Klan is not marching through the streets." Mills said she tried to keep her voice matter of fact, but her hope that her brother was really listening plummeted when he replied: "We know what you are doing. Why are you hurting my friend?" Mills answered, "What am I doing?" And the last thing she ever heard her brother say was: "You know what you are doing."